Kam River Fighting Walleye Win the Bill Salonen Cup

Game 1 April 23

Edison Weeks scored two and added an assist, Evan Lachimea scored a crucial goal, and Keenan Marks stopped 41 of 44 as the Thunder Bay North Stars took game one of the SIJHL finals with a 4-3 win over the Kam River Fighting Walleye.

Norwest Arena was packed with 893 fans with nary a parking spot to be found, vehicle, butt or otherwise.

Noah Kramps gave Kam River a 1-0 lead, notching his 4th from the slot at 15:26 of the first. Kobe Braham and Ethan Lang both collected their 4th assists of the playoffs.

Dimitri Trahiotis tied it for Thunder Bay, converting EJ Paddington’s backhand pass past Eric Vanska for his 2nd of the playoffs. Paddington and Weeks registered the helpers.

Defenceman Kyle Lamoureux drifted in from his point position and scored on a Kam River powerplay at 18:11 of the second for his first tally of the second season. Max Leduc and Jeremy Dunmore assisted.

Thunder Bay scored three in a row in the third to take a 4-2 lead. Weeks scored on a Stars’ powerplay at 8:49 on a wrist shot. Lachimea worked his way along the Kam River goal line from the boards in, gaining enough of an angle to jam home his first of the post-season. Weeks added some insurance with blocker side snipe at 18:32 after a Paddington steal in the Walleye zone. 

Despite Thunder Bay being on a powerplay for the last 52 seconds with a two-goal lead the game wasn’t over. Jack Cook jolted the Walleye off the stretcher for a last gasp with eight seconds left on a shorthanded slapper–his 9th of the playoffs.

But the dramatics ended there. 

“I thought we played a pretty good hockey game,” said Stars’ head coach Rob DeGagne. “First period, maybe they outplayed us a little bit. Last two periods we outplayed them, took them to it a little bit. Maybe it was their layoff. We have to take it to them while we can. It was a good road win. We’ve been good on the road this playoffs,  just keep her going.”

The Stars are on a four-game streak.

Marks stopped 41 of 44 while Vanska shunted aside 33 of 37. Paddington had a pair of helpers for Thunder Bay. Lamoureux had two points for Kam River.

Thunder Bay was 1-4 on the powerplay. Kam River was 1-2. The Stars took four of the 11 minor penalties assessed.  

Game 2 April 24

Thunder Bay went up two games to none with a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory before a packed audience of 893 at Norwest Arena.

Edison Weeks corralled a loose puck on Eric Vanska’s doorstep and deposited his second of the game and fourth of the series at 7:43 of the first overtime session.

Keenan Marks stopped 47 of 49 for his 8th win of the playoffs. 

Weeks got the icebreaker at 3:35 of the first, sniping top shelf from a tough angle. Dimitri Trahiotis got the primary assist, his 5th assist of the playoffs, and Drew Caddo got his 1st.

Anthony Oviedo tied the game at 5:07 of the second frame. Oviedo beat Marks five-hole from the slot for his 3rd of the post-season. Ryan Doucette with his 5th, and Mackenzie Sedgwick with his 3rd, assisted.

North Stars’ defenceman Matt Halushak re-established Thunder Bay’s lead with a powerplay one-timer from the point at 14:34, his 4th of the playoffs. Jamie Fuchs and Sam Skillestad collected their 9th and 8th helpers respectively in the process.

Jack Cook’s one-timer from the point with 1:06 left and Eric Vanska on the bench tied the game at 2-all. Logan Gallaher with his first playoff assist and Max Leduc with his 4th contributed. Cook now has 10 playoff goals in seven games.

Thunder Bay outshot Kam River nine to five in overtime. Weeks notched the game-winner was his 7th of the playoffs with Jamie Fuchs garnering his 10th assist.

Thunder Bay was 1-5 while Kam River was 0-3 on the powerplay. Kam took 29 of 44 penalty minutes doled out.

It was yet another SIJHL classic. 

“As many as it takes,” smiled Thunder Bay head coach Rob DeGagne when asked how many of these epic games his North Stars have left. “I’ve been on both sides. It’s sure nice to be on the right side of it. Hockey’s been fabulous. We’re playing well.

“Kam River’s playing well. Goaltending is great at both ends. They get a timely goal with a minute to go to tie it. We win in overtime. It’s just classic hockey,” he continued.

“It’s good for the league, it’s good for the city. It’s awesome.”

The Gardens may see its biggest crowd of the year in Thursday night’s pivotal game three–an 8:00 p.m. start.

“I’d like to have a couple thousand or more. Cheer the kids on–whatever team you cheer for, it’s up to you. . . Fill the rink, let’s have some fun,” said DeGagne.

Game 3 April 27 

The Kam River Fighting Walleye bounced back from a 2-0 hole to score five unanswered goals to defeat Thunder Bay 5-2 before a Thursday night crowd 1,582 at the Gardens.

What has been a home-team dominated playoffs in the SI has flipped. The road teams have won all three games so far.

Nikolas Campbell and Dimitri Trahiotis gave the Stars a 2-0 lead by 12:34 of the first. Walleye head coach Geoff Walker called a time out. 

 “I thought we came out jittery to be honest,” said Walker. “We weren’t taking care of the puck like we usually do. Kind of running around a little bit in our d-zone. They got a couple of quick ones. Called a quick time out there, just to calm everyone down. Make them understand there’s a lot of time left. Let’s just pick away at this.”

Jeremy Dunmore notched his 4th of the playoffs just 19 seconds later after the pep talk, pouncing on a loose puck that got away from Stars’ goaltender Keenan Marks. A Logan Gallaher slapshot tied it at 2-all, his first of the post-season 46 seconds after Dunmore’s goal. 

Kam River killed off 4:40 of penalty time including 80 seconds of 5-on-3 to end the first frame.

Max Leduc scored two goals 53 seconds apart to break the tie and put Kam River up 4-2. He cashed in a rebound at 13:31, then beat Marks from distance with a wrist shot blocker side to signal the end of Marks’ evening. Conner Lemieux ended up stopping all nine shots he faced the rest of the way.

Dunmore scored an empty netter at 18:27 of the third to round out the scoring.

Leduc added an assist for a three-point night. Dunmore’s pair gives him five goals in the post-season. Ethan Lang recorded three assists.

Eric Vanska stopped 22 of 24 for Kam River, recording his 5th win. Marks shunted aside 15 of 19. The Walleye held a 29-24 shot advantage.

Kam River took five of six minor penalties assessed.

“Dunmore got a big one for us. Gally (Gallaher) got a nice tip in front. Got a couple of penalties. Down 5-on-3 for an extended period. Grinded that out. That’s what championship teams do,” said Walker. “In those moments it can go the other way fast. Credit to our guys. They buckled down, they bore down. Luckily I think we took over in the second and I like our third. Just kind of locked it down.”

Game 4 April 28 

Euan Morrison scored at 0:55 of double overtime as Kam River defeated Thunder Bay 6-5 to knot the series at two apiece. The Fort William Gardens welcomed 2,752 fans through the gates–their biggest crowd ever. The throng was treated to a barnburner.

Ryan Doucette had a pair of goals for Kam River, drawing first blood with a goal at 10:55.

Max Leduc made it 2-0 early in the second on a two-on-one. Thunder Bay overcame a pair of Walleye two-goal leads. EJ Paddington scored on a one-timer from the slot and Sam Skillestad’s knuckler from the point tied the game for the Stars. Doucette went glove side top shelf and Jeremy Dunmore put it through Keenan Marks’ legs for Kam’s second two-goal lead of the game. All five second period goals came by the midway point of the frame.

Thunder Bay called on Conner Lemieux to replace Marks between the pipes midway through the second.

The Stars struck for three goals in a 5:20 span to take a 5-4 lead in the third frame. 

Colby Feist scored on a wrister at 12:17, Evan Lachimea deked a Walleye defender and put one through Eric Vanska’s pads at 14:26, and Nikolas Campbell sniped his 13th of the playoffs at 17:37 to finish off the uprising. 

Jack Cook’s wrist shot from the high slot beat Lemieux 1:09 later to send the game into extra time.

Thunder Bay outshot Kam River 13-9 in the first overtime. Morrison’s game-winner was the only shot of the second session. Logan Gallaher’s shot on goal went off Morrison and in, sending the considerable contingent of Walleye supporters  home happy.

Thunder Bay was 0-7 on the powerplay, while Kam River was 0-2. The Walleye killed off a five-on-three for 32 seconds in the first.

Gallaher and Kyle Lamoureux had three assists and Noah Kramps had two in support of Doucette.

Feist added an assist and Dylan Winsor had two helpers for Thunder Bay.

Vanska stopped 47 of 52 for win number six. Marks stopped 15 of 19 and Lemieux shunted aside 21 of 23 and took the loss. 

“Pretty stressful game. Credit to them. They came back from two goals down,” said Walleye head coach Geoff Walker. “Credit to us. We came back there late. Almost had the winner on the goal line. . . We’re really happy with the result. We got what we wanted. It’s a best-of-three now. We have to win one in our rink now.”

The away team has won all four games in the series.

“Hopefully we’ll buck that trend on Sunday,” said Walker. “They’re all such tight games, tight battles. It’s what you want in a final.” 

Game 5 April 30

Kennan Reyelts had a two goals and an assist and Eric Vanska turned aside 47 shots as Kam River defeated Thunder Bay 4-3 to take a 3-2 series lead. The Walleye skated to a 4-0 lead before the Stars clicked on three powerplay opportunities to cut the gap. 

Riley Borody got a stick on Jack Cook’s shot to give the Walleye a 1-0 lead at 3:18  of the first. Reyelts scored his first of the playoffs on a snapper from the slot at 13:08 for a 2-0 score.

A total of 51 shots were recorded in the second frame–30 by the Walleye–and four goals were scored. Reyelts got his second and Ethan Lang collected a rebound on Conner Lemieux’ doorstep on a Walleye powerplay at 11:40 staking the home town Walleye to the 4-0 edge. 

Thunder Bay responded with two quick strikes with Kam River in the penalty box. Sam Skillestad’s one-timer 12 seconds in to a 5-on-3 got Thunder Bay on the board, and Nikolas Campbell’s 14th on the same powerplay 1:15 later pulled the Stars to within two. 

In the third, Skillestad’s second of the game on a North Stars’ powerplay midway through the period had Thunder Bay one-goal back. Kam River spent six minutes killing off penalties over the last half of the third period but Thunder could not capitalize. 

Final shots were 57-50 in favour of the Walleye.

Borody added an assist and Cook had two helpers for Kam River. Colby Feist and Matt Halushak had two assists each for the Stars. Feist has 16 assists to pace all scorers in the playoffs.

Vanska garnered his 7th win while Lemieux thwarted 53 of 57 in the Thunder Bay net. A total of 910 fans sardined themselves into the Norwest barn for a spirited hometown win.

Adam Blando and Kevin Bragnalo called 16 minor penalties, 10 going to Kam River.

Thunder Bay clicked on three of eight chances while Kam River was 1-4.

“Obviously, good game. Got the ‘W’. Huge penalty kill at the end. I was really pleased with the battle compete out of the boys,” said Kam River head coach Geoff Walker. 

Walker weighed in on Thunder Bay’s comeback from being down 4-0.

“We just tried to stay composed. They got everything they got on the powerplay. Four minutes there with four minutes left. Pretty nerve-racking. Crowd got behind us. Really helped the boys. Every clear we got the place erupted. We love to have that support. We got the job done. We’re on the brink now. The fourth win will be the hardest.”

Kam River can wrap up the SIJHL finals with a win at the Gardens on Monday, or Thunder Bay can extend the series to a game seven on May 3rd.

Game 6 May 1

EJ Paddington and Colby Feist had two goals each, Keenan Marks returned to the pipes and stopped 41 of 43, and Thunder Bay was 3-3 on the powerplay as the North Stars did indeed extend the series to a game seven with a 6-2 win at home before 1,943 fans.

Marks was 20 for 20 in the first period, and Drew Caddo scored with under a second left for a 1-0 Thunder Bay lead.

Logan Gallaher replied at 2:17 of the second on a Kam River powerplay, deflecting Josh Pufahl’s shot for his second of the playoffs. Feist and Paddington scored even-strength markers to put the Stars up 3-1 entering the third.

Braeden Duchesne started from behind his own blue-line, weaved his way through traffic, and scored unassisted at 3:28 to make it 3-2. 

Thunder Bay scored the next three: two on powerplays and one into an empty net. Paddington notched his second on a rebound, Dimitri Trahiotis snapped one home from the right dot, and Feist got his 7th with Vanska on the bench for an extra attacker.

Feist has 23 playoff points, tied with Nikolas Campbell.

Vanska shunted aside 28 of 33. Marks picked up his 9th win against three losses, and leads playoff goaltenders with a 2.52 goals against and .930 save percentage.

“Kids played a great game. We had to win a game at home and we won a game at home,” said North Stars head coach Rob DeGagne. “They played good from the beginning to the end, they bought in, and I can’t believe they still got the energy they have. They’re still working well. It’s anybody’s game. We’ll go Wednesday and see what happens.”

Marks got the nod in net after Conner Lemieux start in game five.

“That was a hard decision. Did Conner (Lemieux) play bad yesterday? Not really,” explained DeGagne. “Our thought process was that (Marks) got us here. He’s played a game six and game seven already and he’s played well. We won in game seven (against Dryden) in double overtime, with our backs against the wall. It was a tough decision but we did it.”

Six North Stars had two-point games. Joining Feist and Paddington, were Caddo with a goal and assist, and Edison Weeks, Matt Halushak and Liam Murdoch with two helpers each.

Game seven, the sweetest game in sports, is Wednesday night at Norwest.

Game 7 May 3

Kam River scored five goals and ended up needing every one of them, defeating Thunder Bay 5-4 in game 7 of the Bill Salonen Cup final at Norwest. The North Stars scored two with Keenan Marks off for an extra attacker but came up short.

Riley Borody and Max Leduc had a goal and assist each, Brydon Bell had two helpers, and Eric Vanska collected his 8th win of the playoffs with a 34-save effort. Vanska played every minute of Kam River’s playoff drive.

Marks stopped 30 of 35.

Dylan Bertrand’s point shot through traffic got Thunder Bay on the board at 7:05 of the first. Riley Borody tied it up, capitalizing on a Max Leduc rebound at 12:28. Leduc’s wrister from the right dot eluded Marks 1:56 later for a 2-1 Walleye lead.

Kam River never trailed from that point forward.

Kobe Braham made it 3-1 at 8:20 of the second. Edison Weeks responded for Thunder Bay at 10:03.

The Walleye padded their lead to 5-2 by 12:09 of the third. Euan Morrison scored on a loose rebound and Ryan Doucette converted Jeremy Dunmore’s feed with just under eight minutes to go.

Thunder Bay pulled Keenan Marks for an extra attacker with 4:36 left. Nikolas Campbell clicked on his 15th at 16:09, deflecting Matt Halushak’s point shot past Vanska. 

Kam took a double minor at 18:24, and despite clearing the zone multiple times, was unable to secure an empty netter.

With eight seconds left Colby Feist slid his 8th of the playoffs past the goal line on a feed from Campbell for the game’s lone powerplay marker. The subsequent draw was sent into Thunder Bay’s zone to kill off the few remaining seconds.  

Head Coach Geoff Walker collected his second consecutive SIJHL championship trophy. He piloted the Red Lake Miners to the win last year, against the very team he coached this year.

“Back and forth. I didn’t love our start. Thought our boys were a little jittery, but we got that goal, kind of settled in,” said Walker of Borody’s first period strike. “Max (Leduc) got another big goal for us there. We just rolled from there.

“The first 12 minutes of the third, that’s probably the most proud I’ve ever been of a team,” he continued. “The way we were re-loading, getting pucks deep. It’s all those things we’ve been talking about for six, seven months now. To see it on full display in the biggest moments, it was really satisfying for sure.”

Feist and Weeks had goals and assists for Thunder Bay. Campbell had a goal and two helpers. Campbell paced all playoff scorers with 26 points and 15 goals, and Feist added eight goals and 16 assists to finish second in point production.

Defenceman-of-the-year Jack Cook had 11 goals and eight assists in 12 games to pace the Walleye attack. Cook was selected as the top playoff performer in a league vote.

Thunder Bay took one minor penalty in the match, and Kam River had just a double minor at the end and one in the middle frame.

Referees Lance Dysevick and Kevin Bragnalo, and linesmen Jared Ostrum and Jason Begin officiated

A capacity crowd of 893 cheered on.

It’s off to the Portage la Prairie for the Fighting Walleye, who are the SIJHL representative in the Challenge Cup starting May 11. The 11:30 a.m. Walleye/Battlefords North Stars (SJHL) match kicks off the 11-day 10-team tournament.